Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.



If you want to be a better writer, read these books.

I’ve always read a lot. Maybe not voraciously, I’m too slow for that. But I’ve read a wide range of books. When I began writing, Joe Higginbotham gave me books. Books that he bought for the sole purpose of sending to me so that I could experience good writing.

He was a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut so he sent me some of his books.  Slaughterhouse Five. Breakfast of Champions. Vonnegut is so different, so unique, it’s hard not to be influenced by his work.

He also introduced me to one of my favorite authors, Chris Offutt. Offutt is from eastern Kentucky, close to my neck of the woods, and his stories connect with me for that reason alone.  There is also a simplicity and directness in his writing.  The characters in his stories are not overly complex and their journeys are not epic, but they’re real people. Joe mailed me three of his books, The Good Brother, The Same River Twice, and No Heroes: A Memoir of Coming Home.  I’m glad he did.

He encouraged me to be a better business person and said I should read Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott, Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi, and Selling the Invisible, by Harry Beckwith.  I did. As well as many others that he recommended.

And the first book he said I should read – well, study really – was Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology.  Heavy stuff, man.

But that was Joe.  He knew what he was talking about and challenged you to be better. That’s a good friend.

We need to talk.

a glance of the eye, the innocent look
the curl of your lips, was all that it took

That’s the first two lines of a song I wrote a few weeks ago. The narrator is beguiled by a look, a smile. It’s a wonderful thing, even if upon reflection, it seems a little superficial. Though the moment may come and go, like so many moments in a lifetime, it might be the beginning of a relationship.

we talked without words, there was so much to say

In this case, it was just the beginning. They moved beyond the magical, natural physical attraction, and they talked. They had a real relationship. Because the conversation is the relationship.

In the case of the song, it was a romantic relationship. But the conversation is also the platonic relationship. The familial relationship. The business relationship. The political relationship. The faith-based relationship.

If you want a relationship, you need to have the conversation.

Years ago I had a friend with whom I had one thing in common: our faith. We had long conversations about the fundamentals and the subtleties of our faith. Because of that, we were friends. Our situations changed, however, and he moved away and we lost contact.

Twenty years later, the contact was restored. I quickly learned that we no longer had common ground regarding faith. But there were other things. He was (and still is) an excellent writer. So we had conversations about writing. The relationship was maintained. But over the past few years, we have come to realize that our viewpoints had diverged too far to maintain meaningful conversations about anything. Neither of us said it, we just quit talking. Which is ironic, because he was the one who first articulated that fundamental truth to me. The conversation is the relationship. I still consider him a friend, but we no longer have a relationship.

That kind of thing happens all the time. Maybe Chauncey Gardner was right. Maybe it’s seasonal. Spring, summer, fall, and finally winter, when things go dormant.

And then there are all of you out there in internet land, most of whom I will never meet. At various times, we have joined in conversation about many things: music, writing, faith. Any given exchange may be only one or two sentences, but over the course of weeks, months, and years, we get to know each other because we talk. Sure, it’s in bits and pieces, but we talk. And because of that, we have relationships.

Weird how you can have friends, yet never sit across the table from each other. Never see an expression of surprise or concern or contentment. Never know what their laugh sounds like. Never hear the sound of their voice, even while you’re having a conversation.

Maybe it’s not weird at all. It’s just good.

Here’s wishing for more of the same in the years to come.

Footnote: The author Susan Scott is credited with the concept of the conversation being the relationship. In her book Fierce Conversations, she discusses the importance of the conversation in all relationships.

The 1% lie.

According to surveys, about 80% of us believe we have a book in us.

Let’s play with some numbers.  The US population is about 320 million.  That means that about 256 million Americans believe they can (should) write a book.

Now let’s apply the 80-20, just for fun.

Of the 256 million who think they have something to say, only 20% of those will ever get around to actually trying to write a book.  That’s 51 million.

Of those, only 20% will finish their book.  That’s a little more than 10 million.  That’s a lot of books.

According to my non-scientific research, there are about 300,000 books published in the US each year, not counting self-publishing in all its forms.  Of the 300,000, about 100,000 are some sort of fiction.

Now 100,000 sounds like a lot.  Surely your novel can be one of the 100,000.

Let’s look at it another way.  Of the 10 million books that are written each year, only 1% get published.  The best 1%.

Maybe you’re in the top 10%.  That would earn you an A in school.  You’re better than 90% of the others.  But it’s not good enough to get published.  You need to be in the top 1%.

Here’s the part that’s not true.

The 1% doesn’t necessarily represent the best writers.  It represents the most marketable, the books that publishers are willing to take a chance on because they believe they can sell product.  Sometimes lesser writing is marketable.

So not only do you have to be a good writer, you have to have a sense of what is marketable if you want to get published.

The odds are against you.  But then again, it’s not about the numbers. It’s about the words.

Tell your story.  Even if it’s just for you.


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